Clijsters Stretches to Win to Complete Comeback

Times Staff Writer

There had to be a way out, Part I: Kim Clijsters was facing an 0-4 deficit and her opponent, Lindsay Davenport, was leading 40-0 on Clijsters' serve.

Her mind started working, not spinning in panic, but calmly sorting through options, wondering how she could nudge Davenport off her high level. Patience, not panic, worked in this case, helping her wriggle out of trouble.

And then some. Clijsters took the next seven games, and went on to win her first tournament since returning from a career-threatening injury to her left wrist, beating top-seeded Davenport, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, on Saturday in the final of the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The circle was completed for the 21-year-old Belgian who won here in 2003. This was where she suffered the injury last March, which resulted in wrist surgery in June. A subsequent setback and long layoff raised serious questions about her future.

"It's amazing," Clijsters said of winning the second event she had played in 2005. "I just couldn't believe it. I was just sitting there looking at my mom and my coach in the box, saying, 'You know, this is true.' "

Said Davenport: "She gave me fits two years ago, and she gave me fits today."

The first reversal of the match was dramatic, but it would not be the last one. After losing seven straight games, Davenport regrouped to take the second set. In the third, Clijsters' aggression had Davenport "guessing" and she was able to break Davenport's serve twice in the third.

"I felt like she started to hit her serve a little better, gave her a little more confidence to go for some shots," Davenport said. "She started hitting great up-the-line shots. I was left at the end not sure where she was going."

There had to be a way out, Part II: Clijsters had to be just as resourceful after her wrist surgery. The worst part, early on, was the cast. The itching was driving her crazy. She looked around the hospital room, trying to find an object long enough to slip under the cast.

"There were just some flowers that were there," she said. "I was thinking, 'What can I do?' I was looking into my toiletry bag, 'Is there anything like long enough?' I saw the flowers, 'Oh.' "

Clijsters stuck the stem of a flower down her cast. Her solution was not appreciated by the medical profession.

"The doctor was so mad because there was stuff [liquid] from the flower stem all over the place," she said, laughing.

Clijsters' ingenuity in getting out of tough situations was not lost on one knowledgeable sort here. Pam Shriver ran into Lleyton Hewitt when Clijsters was trailing, 1-4, against Davenport. Shriver said Hewitt told her that Clijsters, his former fiancee, would come back and win.

Clijsters nodded when told that afterward.

"We know a lot of things about each other, and that will always be very special," said Clijsters. "I know he's very happy with his new girlfriend. As long as he's happy, then I'm happy too."

It has been a strange tournament for Clijsters, seeing and talking with Hewitt again. Her hotel room was broken into and she lost some money, meaning a trip to the police station. "I had to have my fingerprints taken, never done that before," she said.

Saturday's final was new territory for Clijsters. Davenport had come into it with momentum, having defeated Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-0, in the semifinals. But Clijsters has long been a difficult opponent for Davenport, winning nine of their 15 matches, including their last six meetings.

Davenport, 28, complimented Clijsters on her successful comeback but seemed especially sentimental. A farewell speech?

"I don't know. It could be," said Davenport, who has lost in the final here three straight years. "It's definitely not of my career, so that's a good point. But, gosh, I don't know.... The fans here really do mean a lot to me. I feel like I started it all here. If it is or if it isn't, I just wanted everybody to know that I do love playing here and appreciate everything."

Perhaps the emotion came from realizing it might be her last speech at Indian Wells.

"God, I know. I think my voice started to crack a little bit. I was like, 'Oh, no, please,' " she said. "I don't know. I thought maybe last year was too, and I was able to come back in the finals again, be able to do that again. But it's funny, it doesn't cross my mind when I'm playing, it crosses my mind more when the match is over. I'm like, 'Oh, no.' "

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